Hint to budding musicians; If you ever become successful enough to do interviews, remembering the interviewer’s name and using it throughout the chat will win you huge kudos. Us humble scribes are easily flattered. With that, the very easy-going and affable Londoner Billy Lunn, lead singer for alt-rockers The Subways greets me. “I’m very well thanks, Colin. How are you, man?” Shucks.
I’m great. The all-holy Wikipedia says you began by playing Nirvana covers. Now, your new album All Or Nothing is produced by Butch Vig who produced Nirvana’s Nevermind. Was meeting him a “holy shit” moment? It was totally a “holy shit” moment. The first time we met him we were in LA and it was the last date on our tour of America. Because Josh and Charlotte were still under 21, after soundcheck they had to go to the bus. So we’re sitting on the bus listening to music and we get a knock on the bus door and Butch Vig is there. He says, “Hi. I heard your record and I just wanted to say ‘hey'”. Five minutes before stage time and we’re still talking. He was the drummer in Garbage, he produced Nirvana’s Nevermind and Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream and Gish and Dirty by Sonic Youth. We found out he was a disarming character and a really nice guy. At first we didn’t think of Butch [to produce] because, you know, why would he want to work with the Subways. But he said he was interested in a new project so we sent him the demo and he loved it. That was the weirdest moment. There were some freaky moments while recording though.
Like? Well, he and I spent an entire day looking for the right mic and the right pre-amp for my voice. I went into the control room after spending 10 hours in the vocal booth and I said to my manager, “dude can you get me a coffee please?”. Then Butch swivelled around and said, “by the way, you’re using the same mic and same pre-amp that Kurt Cobain used on Nevermind.” I turned to my manager and said, “make that a beer, dude”. Josh got to use the same kit as Jimmy Chamberlain used on Gish and Siamese Dream which was a total dream for him because he grew up on those records.
You underwent surgery to cure nodules developed on your throat, right? Polyps. We thought they were nodules at first and the doctor said you can fix that by exercising your voice and stretching your vocal chords. I kept going back to him and saying these nodules aren’t going man. We went to another doctor and he put a camera down my throat and said they’re polyps. They need to be removed by surgery. So January 2007 I had them removed. I couldn’t speak for three weeks or sing for two months. I think that really affected us as a band. There was a lot of pressure because if the surgery didn’t go right I might have never sung again, but we stayed positive. I couldn’t sing so we just went into a studio and jammed out, probably like Hendrix would have done. Usually I facilitate the rehearsals saying, “I’ve got this idea. Josh could you do this, and Charlotte could you do this”, but I couldn’t speak so they just did what they want`ed to do and we came out with music that we really love playing.
The film clip to “Alright” has you driving through America’s desert in a convertible. Is that fulfilling a dream? Yeah. I’ve always wanted to do that. We wanted the video to be like David Lynch films: Inland Empire or Mulholland Drive with crazy editing. So we did that in the Californian desert actually, Death Valley. We said, “get an open-top Cadillac”… So it was totally a dream man. At night we turned off the lights and you could see the moon and stars so vividly.
Do you travel much outside of the band? Josh and I, we’re brothers and when we were younger our mum used to take us all over the world. We’ve been to Bali, Malaysia, we’ve been to Australia five times. So we love travelling, it’s in our blood. That’s why we’re in the band. We love meeting new people, cultures and having these adventures and learning about ourselves along the way – we’re very self-analytical people. We like to think we’re evolving and developing and when you wake up in a new city everyday you feel like sponges.
Can we expect you here soon? Totally. I think October, November or December. We’re doing a two-week tour. I can’t wait. I miss Australia. Sounds like you’re nearly a citizen. I feel like one. We’ve been so many times and stayed so long everytime we go. Hopefully I’ll move there some time. My mum is always saying, “when are you going to help me live in Australia, Billy.”
Thanks for your time and good luck with the new album Billy. My pleasure Colin.
Shucks. All Or Nothing is out now on Warner.